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ANALYSIS: Do the Swiss really want 'cheaper' health insurance?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: Do the Swiss really want 'cheaper' health insurance?
You don't have to wait long for surgical procedures in Switzerland. Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Calls for less expensive heath insurance premiums have been increasing in Switzerland in recent months. But do the people really want that?


The rising cost of Switzerland’s obligatory health insurance has been fueling much debate among the politicians and public alike.

Various measures to cut the rampant costs have been proposed, ranging  from tying premiums to income and abolishing the current private system in favour of a public, government-run one similar to the schemes in place across Europe.

The reason for this radical change is that “with a single player, it will be easier to maintain decent prices,” according to MP Baptiste Hurni, who is behind this proposal.

READ ALSO : Would people in Switzerland benefit from a government healthcare scheme?

In the wake of the announcement earlier this week that rates will rise by 8.7 percent on average, calls for the public option — and cheaper health insurance — have been increasing.

Everyone agrees that cost-curbing reform of the healthcare scheme is urgently needed, but do the Swiss really want to scrap the private system and replace it with a ‘cheaper’ government-run one, or is it just a reflex reaction to bad news?

Competition and free choice

The idea of the government managing the healthcare system is not exactly new in Switzerland; it had been brought up in the past when insurance rates had gone up.

Two referendums were held on this issue in the past 16 years, and both times the idea of a public health insurance scheme was turned down: by 71 percent in 2007 and by 61.5 percent of the votes in 2014.

Both times, the decisions were based on practical and rational, rather than purely emotional, considerations.

As Swiss media explained it at the time, voters “noted the negative consequences of a public fund, citing in particular the absence of competition, the loss of free choice, and a certain unease with increased state intervention in the health sector.”

Additionally, “voters were not convinced that the new system would have been able to reduce health insurance premiums” — the argument that is still being raised today. 

Another argument that swayed the voters away from the government scheme is that the private insurance system provides a higher quality of services —including better access to specialists and shorter wait times for medical procedures than in countries with the public system.


According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.

OECD statistics also show that Switzerland has among the shortest waits for medical tests and procedures.

And there is more.

The Swiss are actually very happy with their private system.

A survey conducted in 11 countries by the US-based Commonwealth Fund Foundation showed that 88 percent of respondents rate the overall performance of Switzerland's health system as 'good' or 'very good', putting Switzerland in the first place.

It is therefore doubtful that the Swiss, who are accustomed to (you may even say ‘spoiled’ by) the current system of healthcare, will be happy to switch to a lesser one.

As a forum commentator in one of the local newspapers pointed out “you will find faults in our system until you go abroad and see how good we really have it.”

And an important point was made by another forum user: “We all want high-quality health care and all the latest technology, but we should realise  this costs money and doesn’t come cheaply.”


No revolutions, please

Referring to the idea of replacing the present system with the public one, Health Minister Alain Berset said during a press conference this week that Switzerland has a “very good health system” and doesn’t need a radical overhaul.

"With the exception of 1848 [a year of political reform in Switzerland], I have never been a supporter of revolutions," he added. "There is no need for one now.”

So what is the solution to soaring costs?

Instead of drastic changes, Berset said the current system, which has proven its worth since it was first introduced in the mid-1990s, should undergo cost-cutting measures.

Among the steps being debated are lower drug costs, more use of generic medication (which is less expensive than brand-name drugs), better transparency of costs billed by hospital and doctors; as well as fewer procedures for which there is no strict medical need.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland wants to cut soaring healthcare costs


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